Alrighty, then. Let’s take a poll. How many of you know anything about Sarah Childress Polk?
Well, I didn’t either until I visited the James K. Polk Ancestral Home in Columbia, Tennessee. First off, let’s just talk about James for a second. This is the guy you want to be president. He expanded the borders of the United States to the Pacific Ocean, added three states to the Union, started the Naval Academy, the Washington Monument and issued the first postage stamp. And then, because he had promised to serve only one term, he went home. No partisan politics here. I think both sides of the aisle could benefit from this example.
Sarah was a firecracker. She and James never had children, which meant that she had a lot of time to do some back-room dealing during his presidency. She was so popular that during the Civil War, both sides liked her. Sadly, James did not last long after leaving the White House. He died of cholera just three months later. His last words were, “I love you, Sarah, for all eternity, I love you.”
Well, this obviously made a huge impression on Sarah because for the next 40 years she wore Widows Weeds. There are portraits in their home of her in plain black dress and then, after a suitable period, black dress with a white lace collar.
Happily for me, I came into the possession of Provisions and Politics, Recipes Honoring First Lady Sarah Childress Polk recently. I don’t think Sarah did much to move the culinary needle at the White House. For her first state dinner, she served steak and potatoes. And she banned alcohol, which surely put a damper on after-dinner conversation. But the cookbook brings together the best of community recipes from Polk fans.
This one is called The Chicken Curry Event. How whimsical! It’s not a recipe. It’s an event! This is super easy and super flavorful. If you’ve never used coconut milk, dive in. It’s a great addition to the sauce and the taste is more of cream than coconut.
The Chicken Curry Event
½ cup flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
6 boneless chicken breasts
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, sliced
2 green bell peppers, sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons curry powder
1 15-ounce can stewed tomatoes
1 15-ounce can coconut milk
Tabasco sauce to taste
Worcestershire sauce to taste
1 cup currants or raisins
Mix the flour with the salt and pepper in a gallon bag. Coat the chicken with the seasoned flour mixture. Brown the chicken lightly on both sides in 3 tablespoons of the butter in a skillet. Remove the chicken to a baking dish, reserving the pan drippings.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of the unsalted butter with the pan drippings. Saute the onion and bell peppers until the onion is tender. Add the garlic and sauté another minute. Stir in the curry powder and cook for one minute, stirring frequently. Add the undrained tomatoes and the coconut milk.
Bring to a simmer and add the Tabasco and Worcestershire. Stir in the currants or raisins. Spoon the curry mixture over the chicken and bake, covered in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Serve over rice.